Singapore youths to kickstart new CITES Global Youth Network on sustainable wildlife trade with support from NParks, and record number of pangolin scales genotyped to date provides new insights on their geographical origin
06 Nov 2023
- Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) supportive of new network to engage youths worldwide
- Successful application by NParks’ Centre for Wildlife Forensics of a more rapid and cost-efficient genotyping method to genotype pangolin scales will also enhance future efforts to genotype large seizures from illegal wildlife trade and identify source of trafficking
To engage a broader community of youths on sustainable wildlife trade, Singapore will be kickstarting the new ‘Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Global Youth Network (CGYN)’. The CGYN will involve youths from all over the world and it will be kickstarted by Singapore’s youths and supported by the National Parks Board of Singapore (NParks). It aims to provide a platform for knowledge sharing and networking for youths to equip them with the capabilities to better understand the intricacies of sustainable wildlife trade from an early stage. This is important as they will in time take on the mantle of wildlife conservation, inform and influence conservation efforts in their various countries, and help our planet move towards a more sustainable future.
In addition, as part of Singapore’s efforts to tackle illegal wildlife trade, NParks’ Centre for Wildlife Forensics (CWF) has genotyped 2,346 pangolin scales, a record number of pangolin scales genotyped to date, by using a more rapid and cost-effective genotyping method. This study not only provides insights on the geographical origin of the scales, but describes how the methodology can be effectively applied in future efforts to genotype other large wildlife seizures. These findings have been shared publicly to provide the international community, law enforcement, and conservation organisations with useful data to tackle poaching hotspots more effectively and curb illegal wildlife trade at the source.
Mr Desmond Lee, Singapore’s Minister for National Development and Minister-in-Charge of Social Services Integration, said, “I am glad to see our young Singaporeans stepping up to support efforts to combat illegal wildlife trade on the global stage. At the 77th CITES Standing Committee meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, Singapore's proposal to kickstart the CITES Global Youth Network on sustainable wildlife trade was supported by Parties to CITES. Our young Singaporeans will conceptualise and kickstart this Network with NParks. As part of Singapore's efforts to combat illegal wildlife trade, NParks' Centre for Wildlife Forensics has successfully applied a more rapid and cost-efficient genotyping technique to analyse an impressive record number of 2,346 pangolin scales in a single study to date. This capability to swiftly genotype large quantities of seized samples provides insights to identify trafficking networks and poaching hotspots. We have shared this study with the international community, hoping that it will be a valuable resource to support their investigation efforts. These efforts reinforce Singapore's commitment to the global fight against illegal wildlife trade, and we will continue to do our part."
These initiatives support international efforts and are aligned with Singapore’s multi-pronged strategy to combat illegal wildlife trade through research, education, legislation, and a whole-of-government enforcement approach. This is timely as the 2023 United for Wildlife Global Summit, is being held here in Singapore on 6 and 7 November 2023. The Summit brings together global leaders keen to combat illegal wildlife trade, to learn and collaborate to take decisive action in tackling it, a further testament to Singapore’s role as an active player in the global fight against this issue.
New platform for youths to contribute towards wildlife conservation on a global stage
NParks has been actively engaging youths both locally and regionally on wildlife conservation as part of our outreach and engagement efforts to transform Singapore into a City in Nature. These efforts are key to inspiring youths to continue to spearhead new efforts in wildlife conservation and contribute towards a more sustainable future.
Locally, NParks has been involving youths in biodiversity conservation efforts through avenues such as the Biodiversity Friends Forum initiated in 2017, and the Youth@SGNature initiative introduced in 2020, which includes the Youth Stewards for Nature programme, where youths are given the opportunity to lead and implement real-world projects in several fields including greenery management and biodiversity conservation. Notable projects undertaken by the Youth Stewards include promoting responsible encounters with wildlife and in particular, organising the World Wildlife Day Regional Youth Symposium 2022 and 2023 to engage youths in discussions on wildlife conservation. Over 400 youths from 18 different nationalities participated in the 2022 Symposium and its subsequent iteration in 2023.
The success of the Symposium has been recognised by the CITES Secretariat, who invited two youths from the organising committee to conceptualise and kickstart the CGYN. The CGYN seeks to build a wider platform for youths to cross-share knowledge and be better equipped to understand the intricacies of sustainable wildlife trade, enabling them to inform and influence conservation efforts. The proposal to kickstart the network was presented at the 77th CITES Standing Committee meeting held in Geneva, Switzerland from 6 to 10 November 2023, and was well-received by the Parties to CITES.
Youth representatives from different geographical regions will gather in Singapore in 2024 to be part of its founding members. Founding members of the CGYN will organise the inaugural Global Youth Summit in 2025 in Singapore, to continue engaging with youths around the world and develop their capacity in understanding CITES-related matters.
Such outreach and education efforts will help to ensure sustained community stewardship in pushing for wildlife conservation and enhance Singapore’s role as an active player in this transnational fight against illegal wildlife trade.
Importance of more extensive genotyping of seized wildlife products to identify geographical origin
Large wildlife product seizures often present logistical and financial challenges for local authorities and forensic laboratories to process and analyse. Hence, rapid and scalable methods that can quickly genotype a sizeable subset of the consignment are urgently needed to provide the international community as well as law enforcement and conservation organisations with the necessary data in a timely manner, to tackle poaching hotspots more effectively and curb illegal wildlife trade at the source.
To identify a more rapid and cost-efficient way to process large seizures, researchers at NParks’ CWF focused on key stages in the pangolin scale genotyping pipeline that could be improved and applied it to a large number of samples. The result was a rapid, scalable, and cost-efficient genotyping protocol that can be effectively applied to large seizures of wildlife products. This will empower more wildlife agencies and forensic laboratories to genotype sizeable subsamples of their seized consignments.
With this protocol, researchers were able to genotype a substantial portion of the scales from two seizures in Singapore in 2019. These seizures provided one of the largest known hauls of pangolin scales genotyped in a single study to date.
The data obtained from the genotyping has been uploaded to the GenBank of the National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), a branch of the United States’ National Institutes of Health, which is a database of all publicly available DNA sequences. As the data and methods from the study have been made publicly accessible, the international community can make use of the information to undertake more geographically focused investigation and enforcement efforts against poachers and smugglers. These findings are detailed in the paper, “Uncovering the magnitude of African pangolin poaching with extensive nanopore DNA genotyping of seized scales”, that has been published in the journal Conservation Biology.
2023 United for Wildlife Global Summit in Singapore
Singapore is hosting the 2023 United for Wildlife Global Summit on 6 and 7 November 2023. Founded by Prince William and The Royal Foundation of The Prince and Princess of Wales in 2014, United for Wildlife aims to make it impossible for traffickers to transport, finance, or profit from illegal wildlife products. The Global Summit brings together cross-sector leaders to share their work to drive policy change and support investigations, as well as galvanise efforts, and is in line with Singapore’s commitment to the global fight against the illegal wildlife trade.
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 The process of genotyping is where the genetic constitution of a sample is identified.